Below is a cross section of standout college application example videos, representing different styles and approaches. Each reveals something interesting and memorable about the applicant. Many are tailored to Tufts and GMU, both early adopters in encouraging videos, but you can send your video supplement to any college. For more videos links, commentary and analysis, see our book.
Aggie ”animates” herself using still photos, and holds up hand lettered cards in lieu of voice over. Her signs give the video a sense of unity, a relaxed, easygoing feeling, and a dose of wry humor. There’s a lot of warmth and heart here and you come away with a strong sense of who she is.
Technical notes: Aggie intercuts existing video footage with her animated stills.
A great example of how you don’t need to appear on camera to make an effective video. This applicant tells us a lot about who she is, while simultaneously illustrating – literally – her artistic skills.
Technical notes: Superimposed text reinforces and clarifies every sentence.
Ripley chronicles his lifelong interest in filmmaking with clips of films he’s made, and images of the dolly and steadicam he built. His on screen manner is reserved and formal but colleges aren’t looking to build a class exclusively of bubbly extroverts. What shines through is his filmmaking passion and enterprising nature.
“In My Shoes” has been featured in many news stories. One key to its success is simplicity. Rhaina shows off just a few highlights of her life, plus the shoes that go with them. The clever hook – “You’ve never truly known someone until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes” – is presented as text in the opening shot.
Technical notes: Titles tell the whole story – we never hear Rhaina’s voice. Also, you might not have noticed it, but this video was made entirely with still photos. What gives it a sense of “animation” is that both the photos and titles are constantly moving (a trick easily accomplished by many video editing programs).
As she sings and plays her guitar over footage of various locations, Jodie’s emphasis is on telling us who she is, not on selling her resume. The visuals nicely complement her well-composed lyrics.
Technical notes: Jodie appears to have thought out every shot in advance. Notice, for example, the elegant pan-up, pan-down transition from harbor to living room. Another smart thing she does is to subtitle the lyrics of her song. If you write and perform an original song, it’s wise to make sure that a busy admissions officer catches every word.
Michael’s Flying Jumbo video went viral, with justification. He built a radio-controlled flying elephant (Tuft’s mascot is a pachyderm), shot it doing aerial loop-the-loops, laid in a thematic song and capped it with a photo of himself holding his creation. Even though he’s barely on camera, his video conveys a lot: he’s resourceful, inventive and whimsical.
Chelsea uses a clever workaround to GMU’s restrictive essay prompt (“Why is George Mason the right school for you?”), crafting a creative video essay from a simple device – she holds up the letters of the alphabet, and associates each one with a word that connects her to GMU. It didn’t hurt that she shot most of the images at GMU’s campus.
Rosalie’s modest confidence as she displays her origami, combined with titles and musical accompaniment, convey who she is. Her ending – a statement about how working with bits of paper has taught her “patience, motivation, and dedication” – feels just right. There’s a simplicity and quiet grace in her video which makes it affecting.
Technical notes: Rosalie’s online notes explain that she’d never shot a video in her life. This is another example of how one can shoot an excellent video using just a webcam, and without saying a word on camera.
Jill’s technique in this stop motion animation is uncomplicated (sliding objects along a black surface) and the result impressive. She covers her interests (collecting), her passions (art, science, books) and her quirks (sweet tooth!) simply and effectively, all under a lively musical score.
Shane’s video is a highly stylized visual poem. Oversized text is superimposed over images of daily life, while Shane delivers his statement, which is both “philosophical” and down to earth, accompanied by music he composed. In his YouTube notes he explains, “I thought I would take you through a day in first person (from breakfast to going home).” His video is more than that: it is a unique and compelling point of view, a vision about his life.
Annie’s “World Premiere of Changgizzle’s Solo Debut!” is a nice balance of earnestness and humor, a fun rap video done with tongue firmly in cheek, that communicates her dreams and ambitions.
Technical notes: Annie subtitles her lyrics, to make sure the viewer doesn’t miss a word. Good idea. And while ordinarily, we’d say, “Lose the shades, show your face,” in this case the sunglasses are part of her faux-rap persona.
Samantha notes beneath her imaginative animated video that she’d never made a movie before or posted on YouTube. Her short film illustrates how experience is not required to make an interesting piece. Using just drawings and captions, she creates an amusing and compelling introduction to herself, and her periodically exploding mind.
Technical notes: Samantha made a sketch of herself, then created the rest of the “animation” by pasting images and words around and on top of it. Another example of how much can be done with very little.
Another fine example of how a good video need not be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming to make. Shelby made this amusing video in her bedroom, two weeks after undergoing jaw reconstruction surgery, with her mouth rubber banded shut. To make a rap video when you sound like a chipmunk on Novocain takes a great sense of humor, a will to overcome adversity, and guts.
We are breaking our no-longer-than-two-minutes-on-pain-of-instant-rejection rule to include Michelle’s two-and-a-half-minute tour de force, a deeply felt piece about her roots, her family, her ‘hood, her community, and her identity. The poetic narration provides a “spine” for her rich array of images, all still shots. It adds up to far more than “what makes me a great candidate” – it’s a personal meditation on the connections that give life meaning.
Technical notes: If your video is this good, does that mean it’s okay to break the time rule? No! Most videos can be tightened and streamlined with editing, without any loss of quality. In fact, shorter is usually punchier.
This is a great example of an effective, inexpensive video shot in one location, probably in one session, using just a webcam. Shannon conveys enthusiasm for a variety of pursuits, in exactly one minute.
Technical notes: Shannon’s face is front and center, and nicely lit. The background art emphasizes her passion for musicals. The camera is “locked off” so that Shannon’s “jump cuts” work well and keep the video moving. While we normally recommend using music without lyrics, it’s no problem here; Shannon keeps the music volume low enough, and her voice strong enough, so that we hear her clearly.
Paul’s video uses changes of clothing to illustrate his interests and goals in a non-laundry list way. Other appealing elements are the attractive outdoor location, and a conversational tone that would be right at home in a relaxed face-to-face interview. Again, a clever idea and simple execution make for a memorable, stand out video.
Technical notes: With his casual tone, you might think Paul was talking to camera, but in fact all the dialogue is voice over. Paul speeds up the imagery during some of his clothing changes – a nice stylistic touch and a good way to keep the video tight.
This applicant to GMU sang the university a heartfelt ode. It’s a winning combination of enthusiasm, great voice, catchy tune, and strong visuals.
Technical notes: This is one of the few videos done entirely in one continuous shot. The location is arresting: the inside of an architecturally interesting building, with the singer centered in the middle of a dramatic space. Her head is nicely backlit (notice the highlights).
This video falls into the category of, “Kids, don’t try this at home.” The most important point to bear in mind as you watch this video application parody is that it was made by a Tufts student AFTER she was accepted.